I wasn’t in the best of moods last night as we headed to town to the Ohio Theatre to see and listen to Dr. Maya Angelou. In fact I was a little worried I might fall asleep listening to poetry being read for an hour and a half. But an opportunity to be present in the same space with Dr. Angelou is not something to be taken for granted; I was determined to adjust my attitude and appreciate the "real moments" gifted to us by this lovely, remarkable woman.
Dr. Angelou is lovely indeed. Warm, witty, opinionated, wise, courageous…. She actually recited very little poetry last night. She talked, sang a little and why she even cussed on occasion! Much of what she shared can be read here. She talked a great deal about how we all have in our lives "rainbows in the clouds" and how each of us have opportunities to be a rainbow in other peoples lives. She spoke warmly of her "crippled" Uncle Willy and of the numerous people touched by his presence in their lives – a rainbow to many. "Uncle Willy was crippled" she said, paralyzed on his right side, perhaps from polio. No one ever really knew…
Maya shared with us her belief that courage is the most important virtue we can "practice" because with out courage, we can not consistently practice any of the other virtues. Not consistently, she emphasized. That’s when she mentioned her reaction to people who call themselves Christians. "Really? Already?" she said to the delight of the audience. "I’m not done being a Christian; I’m still practicing…when did you finish?"
In speaking of courage, Maya explained to us her refusal to spend any time in the company of others who use the "N" word or any other pejorative words directed at anyone for that matter. "To Hell with that!" It takes courage to excuse yourself from such situations, but we all need to practice it. With great humor, she told us of an experience she had years ago in dealing with "Hollywood" executive types. Pejorative language was tossed about the room; she left as people warned her that if did there would be no future for her there. She then reminded us of just how successful she’s since been as an actress, producer and director despite having walked out then and there. Just be careful, she warned us. If you do storm out of the room, make sure you take your car keys with you. Otherwise like me, you’ll be "hiding in the bushes" until they’re gone.
If you ever have the occasion to spend an evening with Dr. Maya Angelou, do not pass it up. You’ll laugh. If you’re like me you’ll cry. You will walk out with a greater appreciation for the rainbows in your clouds and a determination to look for more opportunities to be a rainbow to others.
If I could say just one thing to Dr. Angelou, I would ask her to have the courage drop the "C" word and to explain to her audiences why she chooses to no longer refer to Uncle Willy as being a "cripple". We know Maya’s audience is vast. She is known around the globe for her work and for her words. If Maya would acknowledge that she’s come to understand that to many, such language is considered hurtful and pejorative, people would hear her message. Imagine Maya as a rainbow in the clouds of people with disabilities. Wouldn’t it be magnificent?
Oh, and one more thing I’d like to say to Maya Angelou: thank you for a lovely evening.
Book critic Bill Eichenberger of the Columbus Dispatch recently interviewed Dr. Angelou. Here is the link. You may need to wait a few seconds for it to load.